Roadside Memorial or Road Kill?

Before this trip, I’d always hated those roadside memorials that spring up when some innocent gets plowed over by a drunken driver or when someone gets plowed and veers off the road killing semi-innocent passengers.

More often than not, after a short time they seem to serve as reminders that loved ones are quickly forgotten, like wilted flowers. At worst, they serve as a distraction, increasing chances of another accident.

However, two memorials that I observed on my Colorado trip made me reconsider my views. The first of them was this simple cross within a cross

Roadside Memorial

decorated with a Raggedy Ann-like figure holding a sunflower. I think it was the simplicity and child-like innocence of the memorial that struck me. I was almost moved to tears by it (though, in my defense, it may have been the chilly wind dropping off the Colorado Rockies that caused my eyes to tear. ) I’m not even sure I would have seen it if I hadn’t stopped to get a picture of a small herd of deer on the other side of the road.

The other memorial was a state away near the Mexico-New Mexico border. At first glance, it seemed just the opposite of the one I’d seen earlier. It was quite elaborate, so elaborate that even after hours of study and are not sure what all the symbols signify.

Roadside Memorial

This one reminds me of ones I’ve seen it in Indian graveyards, ones I’ve avoided taking pictures of because I thought to do so might offend the Indians whose ancestors were buried there. Since this one was constructed beside the road, I had no such qualms. It seemed obvious that whoever built it wanted others to stop and notice it. This one actually made me want to know more about the person(s) lost and about those who built the monument.

P.S. After returning home, I’ve started noticing roadside memorials again, and, unfortunately, I have reverted to my earlier perception that they’re more annoying than memorable, that it takes a real artist to make them more than a pile of mementos.

Gee It’s Good to Be Back Home

Going on vacation can remind you just how special home is. I loved my trip to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California, but I also came home with a new appreciation for the Pacific Northwest.

I was reminded just how much I love it here by Friday’s trip to Belfair. Even the ever-present Song Sparrow’s

Song Sparrow

song seemed refreshingly new.

A Northern Pintail is just as beautiful at Belfair as in Sacramento.

male Northern Pintail

The common House Finch may not compare to the flashier Pyrrhuloxia, but red feathers still shine against a gray sky.

House Finch

A seldom seen Fox Sparrow is nearly as welcome as a never-seen Cactus Wren.

Fox Sparrow

The flashing Cooper’s Hawk still thrills the heart

Cooper's Hawk

and who could ignore Red-tailed Hawks circling over head

Red-Tailed Hawks circle overhead

rising ever and ever higher?

Nothing better than making new friends unless it’s meeting old ones.

Folk Art 101

When you travel as far as I did on my two-week trip to Colorado, you welcome anything that breaks up the monotony of a long drive.

I brake for Roadside Art, at least when well done. Metal sculptures have often drawn my attention in Malheur and when crossing from northern California to southern Oregon on I-5, and three fanciful monsters caught my attention in southwest Wyoming on this trip, my favorite being this one:

Wyoming Monster

This mural:


seen in La Veta, Colorado also stands out, particularly because it was painted on a small, nondescript house. I would have loved to ask the owner what the figures symbolized.

Of course it’s not unusual to see art used by businesses to attract customers. I doubt I would’ve even noticed the chicken on top of the truck in Hatch,

Large Plastic Chicken

if the business across the street hadn’t been so unusual.


It was also hard to ignore the huge Uncle Sam holding the green chili in the parking lot.

Uncle Sam with Green Chile

I couldn’t decide if that was more sacrilegious than the Statue of Liberty wrapped with a garland of red chilies.

Red Hot Statue of Liberty

And of course, faithful readers will know that I could not possibly have resisted to charm of the tin figure in the fountain.

Mechanical Man

Who knows, I might have been praising the food right now, if the restaurant hadn’t been closed on Mondays, which was unfortunately the day I stopped by.

A False Sense of Security

I’m sure my trip to New Mexico and Arizona would have been more enjoyable if I hadn’t run into the Border Patrol so often. Let me say right away, the officers I interacted with couldn’t have been more polite or more pleasant. Being an old white guy wearing a Nature Conservancy hat, I was never challenged. Despite that, I didn’t like the idea of being stopped and being checked two or three different times.

I was about 20 miles away from the Mexican border when I encountered this checkpoint.

Border Patrol Check Point

I actually stopped on my way to Pancho Villa State Parked and asked if I was passing the border and if I needed a passport to get back in because I wasn’t carrying mine. They joked and told me I might enjoy spending the rest of my life in Mexico. I didn’t have any problem getting past the stop on the way back, except for waiting for the truck in front of me to clear.

Still, I felt slightly offended when the German Shepherd sniffed out my car and just a little intimidated by the 20 or so well-armed officers standing at the post. If I hadn’t been so intimidated I would have taken a shot of the actual guards. Even the 9 mm Glock in my glove compartment couldn’t make me feel completely secure at that point.

It wasn’t just the checkpoints. I must have spotted 20 border patrol cars between central New Mexico and Eastern Arizona. They were parked beside the highway looking South. When I drove by this depot, it reminded me of American army outposts in Vietnam:

Border Patrol Depot

I was also amazed by the number of cars stopped by the Arizona state patrol. I began to wonder if I’d suddenly crossed into a Police State.

Do all these patrolmen make the people of New Mexico and Arizona feel more or less secure?

Unfortunately, I know how I felt.